Let me prephase this by saying that for me, writer’s block isn’t so much staring at a blank page unable to make the words come out; it’s that sometimes I find it really hard to be in the head space to get writing done, especially around full time work. I find myself losing motivation and the desire to write deserts me completely for months at a time. After all, it does mean I am doing a lot of extra work, outside of work, for an imaginary distant goal.
So, a more accurate title for this blog would be: Ways I’ve tried to trick my brain into staying motivated reviewed.
I’ve collated the top ten methods I’ve seen talked about the most in my travels, just in case you don’t fancy reading the full review of each technique- I’ve included short summaries and given it a number of stars out of five.
- Word count goals ***/** (3 out of 5 stars)
-depending on your personality, either really helpful or extremely demotivating.
Between work and university, we are trained to work to a deadline and for perpetual procrastinators, like me, this can be a good way to force yourself to sit down and get it done.
– Having a monthly goal– this was great in the first month but when things got particularly busy, as I was applying to new jobs in all my spare time, I fell behind and it ended up totally backfiring. Because when I reached 3000+ words behind where I’d hoped to be I thought ‘fuck it, no point now is there? I’m not going to catch up’.
However, keeping track of my progress, how many words I reached and when, has been really beneficial! I was beating myself up for the progress (or lack thereof) I’d made during lockdown until I realised that I’d succeeded in writing 12k words in 9 months. Not to mention a few short stories I wrote along the way for a bit of fun.
- Create a ‘writing zone‘ ****/*
–Great for training your brain to work, but restrictive.
Essentially, re-creating a particular setting to engage yourself in ‘work mode’. For example, a certain playlist, or sitting in a certain location, or even a certain lighting. Mine is my room, window open for a breeze, one or two different playlists depending on my mood and some candles if I’m feeling extra.
Is this helpful? To an extent. Creating a situation that I associate with focusing has been helpful because it does help me click into a certain frame of mind. However, it also reinforces the notion that I can only write under this specific set of circumstances and so it becomes harder to be more flexible. I will say, working from home during Covid has probably been a mitigating factor in creating these circumstances where it’s easier to concentrate. Whether with my laptop or my work one, I’m trying to work and focus within a busy family home. So having a separate location where I do my ‘me’ work, as opposed to ‘work, work’ has been very useful.
- ‘Write Anything’ *****
–Very good for getting those creative gears turning
This where you sit down and try to create literally anything. Use a short story prompt to write a little story, write some crappy poetry, write a random splurge of dialogue, anything goes. Some also call this ‘free writing’.
This can be very helpful, especially if it’s a long term WIP you’re working on that’s got you stuck. No matter how much you love writing, a bigger project can start to feel like a chore when you are in the middle of it, you lose that little spark of joy over creating something just for the sake of it.
To every writer I recommend having a bit of creative fun, for no reason, every now and again. You enjoy writing for reason and not every piece of work needs a point or purpose, nor does it need to be a masterpiece.
- Turn off all distractions ***/**
– depending on your personality, great for helping you to focus and lose excuses not to focus.
Although, my opinion on this is a little bias, as I don’t generally tend to struggle with putting away my phone, ignoring social media or messages from friends (sorry friends!). I don’t find this is a particularly great way of getting yourself to work because it creates this ‘I can’t have that’ feeling, which can lead to you delaying getting stuck into writing because you know you’re ‘not allowed’ to look at your phone etc once you do.
However, I did find the function on my Mac, where I can put a word document into ‘focus mode’, which gets rid of all side bars and menus (including word’s menus) and leaves only the white page on the screen, very helpful. I know other’s find it helpful to turn off the evil red lines of grammar/ spell checker but I just find myself getting irritated when I know a word must be wrong and spell checking anyway.
I will say, definitely turn the t.v. off, unless you’re capable of ignoring it and just treating it like background noise.
- Write the dialogue, pad it out later ****/*
-Great way to power through a scene, requires editing later
I thoroughly recommend this if you are stuck on a scene. Sometimes all the action is in the dialogue and the movement tags and ‘she said, ‘he sighed” etc can actually slow down the process. This helps you get into the thick of it without worrying too much about describing the room, characters facial expressions, where they sit and stand. This is very easier to add later, as the dialogue will provide a frame work for the rest.
Downside is this does trap you in an ‘edit as you go’ loop, which some people find extremely detrimental to the progress of their first draft. Some preach not editing until you’ve finished your first draft but I use this technique quite a lot and really like it.
- Using placeholders for stuff you’re stuck on ****/*
–great for keeping pace and momentum but also requires lots of editing later
For example NAME when you can’t think of a name for a character, WORD for if there’s specific word you know needs to go in this space but can’t remember it. Or on an even larger scale FIGHT SCENE GOES HERE, if there’s a type of scene you struggle with writing more, you skip it in order to not lose momentum. Make sure you use the same repeating words so that you can do a complete search of that particular word, or even use the find/replace function.
This is great for making sure you don’t lose your ‘oomph’and get distracted by googling things to fit this gap. Nothing kills a fantastic zoom tippy tappy moment like vague searches to find the word you’re after. However, once again this will require lots of editing later on and sometimes that section you particularly don’t want to do, will be necessary eventually in order to further the plot. The longer you leave it, the bigger hole it creates.
- Change the font **/***
-potentially helpful technique for tricking your brain
For a while on the corners of Pinterest I find myself in, changing your font to something like Comic Sans was getting a lot of hype. Perhaps because it’s a lot less official and threatening than some of its counterparts?
Personally, in terms of helping me write more, it didn’t really achieve anything. Although, I will say for editing it is really useful because things look different to what you are used to and that makes errors your eyes might normally skip over easier to spot.
- Talk the scene over out loud *****
–really useful way to work through ideas and descriptions
You will sound insane, so perhaps restrict this to whispered conversations with yourself in the shower but it really does genuinely help. Whether it is to voice the narration out loud, to work the description of a place or person, or acting out the dialogue in a scene.
This has also helped me work out major plot points by working through the problem aloud as though I’m a character trying to explain the events to someone, or even a particular aspect of the world I’m building (particularly useful if you’re in a fantasy setting, explaining the rules of this magical universe, or history, as though you’re Hagrid introducing Harry Potter to the wizarding world.)
- Build stopping points where you get rewards **/***
-another brain training technique, great way to make writing a more positive experience when you’re struggling.
I’m sure this might be helpful for some people but it doesn’t work for me. I do however, give myself stopping points where I walk away for a little bit, e.g. ‘At 10 I’ll grab a snack and make a cup of tea.’ , although it’s possible to argue that is also a reward system, it’s not quite ‘you get a chocolate bar if you write 1000 words’ kind of reward.
- Mind over matter ***/**
–gets to the route cause of the problem, requires discipline/ determination to work through
This is the argument that writers block and procrastination are a result of insecurities surrounding your work and the best way past it is to literals tell yourself it doesn’t exist, or address the route cause of these anxieties. It boils down to literally deciding writers block doesn’t exist and powering on through. Some argue that by giving it a name, you make it exist. i.e. by calling lack of motivation, or procrastination, or being just plain tired, ‘writers block’ it creates a catch all excuse.
Personally, if I am ‘not in the mood’ to write, I generally tend to not bother trying. This is why I began trying these various methods to get me going, to trick myself into working on writing regardless of mood, or how tired I am. Perhaps, some of it used to stem from a bit of imposter syndrome but the more I talk about writing, either to friends, on social media or on here, the more it legitimatises this as a genuine passion I am trying to pursue into a career. I also found it extremely helpful looking at stupid things like writing memes on Pinterest, where I was surprised to find that there were many aspects of personality, totally separate from writing, which I shared with other writers. It was nice to find shared quirks with other people who also characterised themselves as writers and helped defeat the imposter syndrome.
I hope you found my reviews of these techniques helpful, I also hope that you’ll never need to use them! This took a surprisingly long time to write, so if you enjoyed this then an itty bitty like or follow will be greatly appreciated! I also have Instagram and Twitter and will gladly follow fellow creatives back.